When it comes to engaging in discussions about objectification, Playboy has a long, vibrant history. Ever since British film theorist Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the male gaze in her 1973 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” the conversation of who gets to objectify whom, and when, and under what circumstances, has found a place in just about every corner of cultural discourse, from what female politicians should wear on the campaign trail to the rise of (and impetus behind) feminist porn to how women—and their sexualities—are portrayed in media.
But we’re not here to ignite another conversation about the wrongfulness of complicit objectification—at least not today. Instead, let’s confront a more joyful truth on the other end of the spectrum: it can feel good to be looked at. As Cameron Diaz said in 2012, “There’s a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it’s healthy.” Let’s call it “conscious objectification.”
While conversations about feeling objectified primarily center on women as the object, men too can be objects, although they rarely are. Today, Grammy-nominated artist Charli XCX showed what that can look like with the release of the testosterone-filled video for her new single, “Boys,” and good news: it’s pretty damn fun.
Featuring famous men from all industries in varying levels of physical fitness and undress—including Brendan Urie, Cobra Snake, Diplo, Jack Antonoff, Jay Park, Joe Jonas, Khalid, The Fat Jew, Ty Dolla Sign and Wiz Khalifa—the video, directed by Charli, is a parody of every male-directed video released by a male artist whose sole narrative has been “Here’s some hot, nearly naked women dancing to my song.” Charli’s video isn’t as bare-skinned as Tyga’s “Make It Nasty,” Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” or even Van Han Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” (featuring August 1975 Playmate Lillian Müller), but it’s motive is nonetheless obvious and successful: objectify the fuck out of these men as they show off their masculinity and make sure everyone is having fun in the process. Why is this video so damn good? Because it’s a pleasure-minded approach to art that is too often ignored or ridiculed in a time when sex and pleasure are so highly politicized.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed. Attracting the attention of others is why we filter our selfies before posting, why we sign up for CrossFit even if we never go and why we wear our special $150 jeans that hug just right on Friday night. Our sex lives rely on our ability to be objectified, and sex is a biological imperative.
Charli’s “Boys” video, as a simultaneous celebration of role reversal and objectification, is a gift to both women and men. A pink-hued, exuberant and joyful satire on masculinity, “Boys” playfully reminds us of the merits of consensual objectification and the work we put in toward achieving it. More than that, the video for “Boys” reminds us that women now have just as much power to objectify men as men do women. We need to appreciate this.
Feeling objectified works in tandem with one’s sense of autonomy or ownership.
Thanks to female public figures like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Eva Mendes actively owning their bodies and sexualities, modern conversations about objectification have been able to evolve as of late. As Mendes related to W in 2010, feeling objectified works in tandem with one’s sense of autonomy or ownership. “I’ve never had a problem with nudity, but I don’t put it out there without a reason,” she said. “I know I walk a fine line between being a respected actor and being what they call a sex symbol. But I’ve never felt objectified. Nothing you see me do is an accident.”
With her latest video, Charli is enforcing the less-explored male point-of-view. In other words, let’s have men see what it feels like to be gawked at—but let’s make sure both genders enjoy it in the process. Previously, in the 2014 video for “I Luh Ya Papi,” Lopez cast herself aboard a yacht full of perfectly tan and oiled-up male models whose bodies were fully dissected by the camera. In her 2012 video for “Girls Gone Wild,” Madonna similarly casted a chorus of chiseled backup dancers—but seized their masculinity by outfitting them in stilettos. That’s the beautiful, and perhaps most exciting, thing about objectification in 2017: women can now tackle it just as forcefully as men have for decades. In Charli’s version, these aren’t just nameless babes, but equally famous guys who are being ogled.
Back in 2015, Hollywood’s newly christened ubermensch Chris Pratt said, “If we really want to advocate for equality, it’s important to even things out. Not objectify women less, but objectify men just as often as we objectify women.” Charli’s video is proof that we’re starting to get closer, and that might be one of the greatest milestones in our march toward true gender equality.